Jack B. Nimble (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £1.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Sometimes, you get a pitch that you just can’t ignore. “Canabalt meets Castlevania” is, let’s face it, one hell of an elevator pitch, and that’s precisely how Jack B. Nimble was presented to me. An endless runner, but with a Castlevania-esque, whippy twist.

Why yes. I would like to hear more.

Ahh, good old Londinium, capital of Roman vampires, werewolves, and assorted succubi. Good party town.

And so I did. And… While it mostly works, that “mostly” is slightly annoying. So, let’s mention the good, because there’s a fair amount of it. The game can be played with one button (space) , one button (left click on the mouse), or, if you’re a smart aleck like me, played with two buttons (space and the left click.) Pressing it once while on the ground either hops or leaps, depending on the length you press, while pressing it in the air whips. This is important, because both the number of candles whipped, and the accuracy of your whip cracks figures into your score. The game’s help screen quite helpfully shows the formula as Distance x Number of Candles x Accuracy Percentage. So, for example, surviving 1040m, and whipping 22 out of 24 candles would get me 20973 points (1040 x 22 x 91% and some change.) Speed goes up over time, some things slow you down, some things speed you up, missing a jump kills you dead, hitting an obstacle kills you dead. Nice and easy.

Visually, the game is on point: A four colour palette, similar to the Game-Boy it’s so obviously inspired by, clear pixel visuals, and the stages look, apart from the fact there’s no stairs, and only one… cough… BAT (Restraining myself there) that flies by when you lose, like Castlevania stages. Add in unlockable characters, most punning on either Jack or Jill (Jack Frost, Jack O Lantern, Jill Nimble, as early examples) , and visually, the mood is spot on.

It may not look it, but… Nailed it.

So, it’s accessible while also being challenging, as Endless Runners generally are. So far so good. Now come the bits that aren’t gamebreakers, but are annoyances and niggles.

Musically, the game sticks to its chosen theme of “Castlevaniaesque” for two of the six stages for sure, and then goes for more generic, arcade platformer tunes for the third and fourth. As noted, it’s not a gamebreaker, but it’s a tonal shift that messes with the mood, and I’m not the biggest fan, even though the tunes for the third and fourth stages are not, in and of themselves, bad chiptunes. Alas, I can’t tell you about the fifth stage at the time of review, because, at the time of writing, I have yet to beat my current scores on any of the four stages (sub 500k with the exception of the first stage, in which I have 600k and some change), and, to unlock the fifth, I need to earn 500k minimum per level. For the sixth, that rises somewhat, to 800,000 per stage (for a total of 2 million and 4 million respectively.) So, unfortunately, I can’t really tell you if it gets that mood back.

Similarly, there are some niggles mechanically and visually, in that it the controls are precise enough that my run most commonly runs into two problems: Whipping because I hadn’t precisely landed on the floor, and thus faceplanting into whatever the pit of death is for the stage, landing on a crate and not being able to jump because I landed wrong… Cue faceplant, and, most heartbreaking of all, whipping as I try to leap off a crate, still successfully leaping, but knowing that I have to work harder to get that higher score. Again, not a dealbreaker, but it does happen, and it is annoying.

WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO EMULATE THE WONDERSWAN…

Finally, there’s the part I would just like to be a different colour scheme. You see, every now and again, IT IS A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE (Remember that old chestnut?) and the colour scheme is replaced by… Crimson and Black. Aka the colour of the Wonderswan, aka “The Curse of Colourblind Unfriendliness From Satan’s Unwashed Posterior.” I don’t mind curses, but colourblind unfriendliness is, as longtime readers may know, a thing I bang on about.

Otherwise, though, Jack B. Nimble is a lighthearted, pretty accessible game that wears its retro sensibilities on its sleeve, without that retro bullshittery, and with an interesting addition to the otherwise basic formula of the Endless Runner. Which is nice, I like to see more of that!

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, or Jack will never beat his personal best and unlock new colours for his universe. WHIP AND JUMP, PEON, WHIP AND JUMP.

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Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (Review/Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Touhou series has, even without counting fangames, gone a whole lot of places. Starting as a series of bullet-hell shooters on the PC-98, Team Shanghai Alice and collaborators have created Touhou fighting games and versus shooters, changing gameplay with many installments. With fangames, there’s visual novels, metroidvanias, megaman style platformers, RPGS, and, with Scarlet Curiosity, a collaboration between Ananke Spa and Team Shanghai Alice, there’s ARPGs. All set in a world where it sometimes seems that morning greetings consist of an all-out battle with apocalyptic magic between cute anime girls, some of whom are also Youkai or other folkloric nonhumans.

I mean… This might as well be called Touhou.JPG , for how emblematic this line of dialogue is.

Scarlet Curiosity is an odd beast, in many respects, trying to mix action RPG ideas with the bullet-hell gameplay of the Touhou series with… Honestly, mixed results. This is also technically a Going Back, because while this is the 2018 Steam release, the game was originally created in 2014, and officially localised by XSEED in 2016.

In any case, the general idea is that Remilia Scarlet, ancient and powerful vampire in the body of a young girl, is bored. Considering that she is, canonically, one of the more dangerous residents of Gensoukyo, this is already a recipe for disaster, but add in a Tengu tabloid monster hunt, and the fact that something largely destroys the Scarlet Devil Manor, and… Well, you have all the elements ready for shenanigans to occur.

Takes a while to get going, though, to the point that, at first, I wondered whether this really was a Touhou game, bullet helling and all. Fairies were unaggressive, giant centipedes a case of slashing while circling… This, combined with the game having some large and sprawling maps, and a lack of visual feedback beyond numbers and hit sounds, disguised the fact that, in fact, I was struggling to get through levels. Come the second stage boss, and this lack of feedback revealed itself, as I died again, and again, and again, before finally respecting their patterns. It took until the fourth boss for me to stop thinking that the jump button in the game felt like an unfair advantage (Allowing the skilled… IE – Not me… To dodge most early game bullet patterns entirely.

So… Large, sprawling maps (Each taking about twenty minutes to get through), combined with main level enemies that, like a Touhou shooter, don’t get terribly challenging until a little later on, combined with a lack of visual feedback for hits (and the fact that, like many bullet hell games, many bullet types can be nullified with an attack) doesn’t exactly paint the prettiest picture. In fact, it paints a somewhat clunky one.

I will never take away, however, how spell card effects like this one look… Awesome.

But there is good here. The models are well put together for the most part, the game does get flashy the further in you get, and the stages, while large and sprawling, are definitely not without their interesting features. Loading and saving is separate for the two main characters, Remilia Scarlet and Sakuya Izayoi, which is a nice touch. Five slots each is generous, and I appreciate this. Similarly, in addition to each character getting different types of Weapons, Accessories, and Armour, following the usual ARPG rule of “Bigger numbers, always bigger numbers” , they also get to switch out their specials and skill cards for different types as they level up, leading to a fair amount of variety that I appreciate. Heck, there’s even some difference to their basic styles, with Sakuya being a tight, melee focused character, whose jump attack is just that: An attack in the air, and Remilia being a more loose, more aggressive character, who has a hard to master, but very satisfying ground dive as her aerial attack. Despite some light value issues making the lighter enemies hard to see well at times, the game visually works, and musically… Well, the Touhou games have always been known for good music, and Scarlet Curiosity is no exception.

In the end, Scarlet Curiosity is an interesting addition to the series, but an acquired taste that is not without its flaws. Longtime Touhou players may find it slow to start, while folks new to the series may well find it frustrating, but I can definitely respect the experimentation with genre mixing going on here.

Alas, pink on translucent grey is, as a colourblindness accessibility sidenote, not a good pick.

The Mad Welshman feels, apart from the whole “Being a dude” thing, that he would fit in well in Gensoukyo. I mean, Death Rays, Death Ray Spell Cards… What’s the real difference?

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MOTHERGUNSHIP (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Tower of Guns was an interesting game. A procgen first person shooter with, potentially, a silly amount of jumps, verticality, secrets, and guns, it lived up to its name. It also had an odd world. Now, with Mothergunship, the devs are doing it again, but this time in space. And it is good. And it is funny. And it is fast enough that I can’t give it any major points for accessibility. Even if it ticks all those other box type objects…

Boxes! That’s what they are!

Funnily enough, underneath the humour, the setting’s… Kinda bleak!

In any case, Mothergunship is a first person shooter with some procedural generation, a lot of bullets flying about, and the main selling point of being able to craft extremely silly guns from a whole bunch of parts. Of course, you have to get those parts first, by doing missions, buying them from a black marketeer, and the like, but you too, with a little hard work, can have a gun that fires slow moving rockets, mines, lightning, and lasers all at once, while reducing gravity. Somehow. With the tradeoff that the more bits you put in, the less you’re able to shoot it before having to wait for a reload.

And, considering Mothergunship’s enemy spawning and projectile philosophy is “More is better” , it’s fairly safe to say you want to pack the most bang for your energy bucks. Since the normal recharge time of around 5 seconds is an eternity if you haven’t made a dent in the boodles of enemies the game throws at you. Or the dirty tricks the Mothergunship’s armada has up its robotic sleeve, like lava floors, bouncy floors, bouncy walls, bouncy robots… It’s mean. Parts of it have adaptive difficulty of a sort (The more side-missions you successfully complete, the harder they get, and if you die in a side-mission, it eases the difficulty up a bit) , but the main story missions are a fixed difficulty, and losing a mission loses you all the gun parts you took to the mission.

This is a relatively mild example of a mid to late game room in motion. All-together now: AAAARGH!

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that last bit, to be honest. While you have a very generous storage space (100 total connectors, barrels, and buff inducing “caps” ), losing your best guns is a frustrating experience, regardless of the inducement to experiment with different builds. Thankfully, Side missions lag behind in difficulty, and there are a few options for gaining back those precious weapon options, and, for those of us who just don’t like to lose their guns, there’s the Joe’s Arms & Armoury missions. Joe’s Arms & Armoury: Gun shaped solutions to mothergunship shaped problems.

Which is as good a segue as any into how crafting guns feels. Beyond my one minor irritation with the system (Switching between removal mode and attachment mode feels needlessly finicky), playing with that energy/part tradeoff feels good, and I’ve found myself affectionately naming some ideas. The Friendly Fire, for example, asks the question: What happens when you add a 20-40% chance of spawning lava mines to individual shots… When you have three chainguns? It doesn’t fire for long, but the damage over time helps while away the recharging! Similarly, The Finger, consisting of some railguns, damage multipliers, and bounce mods, generally means that anything obliging enough to stand in a rough line from where I’m standing… Definitely gets The Finger.

While this is a low intensity shot, I’d like to point out… This jump was 90% done with rockets. Not even your traditional rocket jump either. Just… Shootin’ those rockets downward.

So, apart from the fact the game is, if not twitchy, then hectic, which unfortunately shuts out some folks from the game, there’s a lot good about Mothergunship, but one last thing definitely deserves a mention: The farcical humour. Farce must be played with a straight face, and of the cast, only the long suffering AI Jasper consistently plays the put-upon straight man, with the overall result of a humour heavy, fully voiced dialogue through the story’s missions. The Colonel is a cheery, blowhard incompetent. Dr. Dove Simona, although arriving late to the story, enters it with bombast, arrogance, and… Look, I don’t think it’s the Colonel that wants a cigar (he has a lollipop, because who loves you, baby), it’s Dr. Simona. Wilkinson’s VO really sells the long-suffering woman techie, and even the side characters, such as Hylas, get their moment in the sun. Pretty good, for something where most of the dialogue involves characters we never see more than a portrait of.

As such, overall? Beyond its speed and difficulty, which, as mentioned, shut out some folks, there’s not a lot that goes against recommending Mothergunship. It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s bombastic, has only minor niggles with its core design pillars, and looks nice to boot. Enjoyable!

Dr. Dove Simona: Making damn sure you know she’s a top.

The Mad Welshman would like to state that he is not, in fact, secretly an Archivist Ship spreading Archivist Propaganda. Please step into the Not-Archiving Machine.

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Lumines Remastered (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99 (£9.49 for the Digital Deluxe DLC… Which is the soundtrack, some wallpapers, and avatars)
Where To Get It: Steam

Lumines Remastered is, on a basic level, exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the Lumines you may already have if you love the tetromino arcade puzzler, but with a higher resolution, some better menus, and some minor added features such as a versus CPU and multiplayer mode. Not a lot has changed, except that I find this version, oddly, triggers my epilepsy while the previous does not, and, as such, skins that were not colourblind friendly, remain unfriendly to those of us who have colourblindness of some description.

Although this does not look like a problem, the backgrounds are animated, and this seems to make this particular skin harder to differentiate.

So, for those of you who’ve played Lumines before, there’s your paragraph. For those who haven’t, let’s have a chat about feel and difficulty. Because the way Lumines works is quite cool, even if this remaster isn’t something I can recommend to my fellow epileptics.

Lumines, mechanically, works on three main elements. Matching squares with four tiles, of two different colours, into squares of single colours. A wipe bar, which, if you’ve matched a block while the wipe bar’s going across said block? Won’t fully count. And varying the speed of both block falling and the wipe bar to change the difficulty. Early levels are a normal speed for both, but then the block falling speeds up, and, every now and again, the wipe bar… Slows down. Which, considering this follows the usual tetropuzzle rule of “If you fill up a column and try to put a block on that column, you lose” , makes it harder, because matched squares don’t go away until the wipe bar’s fully crossed all the rows.

If you’ve got this many blocks this late, you have a problem.

Clever stuff, and a skilled player, despite being able to take it slower in certain stages, can take advantage of the slower wipe bar to build up some incredibly silly combos, and clear lots and lots of blocks. But mechanics alone doth not a game make, and Lumines also has a solid, clear aesthetic going for it. While, as I mentioned, some levels don’t differentiate the light/dark blocks terribly well, the majority thankfully do, and the music is a good mixture of catchy, dark, pumping, and relaxing. A medley of melodies, if you will. The effects of the game when blocks are cleared pleases my lizard hindbrain, and so, feelwise? It feels good.

Overall, if you already have Lumines Advanced, the only major selling points are the multiplayer/CPU mode and higher resolution graphics, but if you like tetromino puzzlers, Lumines has quite a pedigree, and hasn’t fixed what isn’t broken.

Mmmmm… Parrrrticles…

The Mad Welshman is not, despite the conspiracy theorists, actually a lizard. He’s a werewolf.

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Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal (Review)

Source: Gold Coins from Captain Skully Bartella.
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the majority of which were written by tabletop legends Steve Jackson (NOT THAT ONE) and Ian Livingstone, were an interesting part of the tabletop scene, although early books in the series were well known for gotcha traps, instant death paragraphs, and some highly frustrating collectathons. Looking at you, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and your god-damn keys.

Ah, the heady days before “Mimic” became common parlance for anything pretending to be a chest…

They were also experiences that, like your linear, curated experience in a game, could be successfully completed on replaying… Through the notes you took last time, reducing the challenge of future runs.

Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal reduces the latter to a certain extent with its adaptations of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy (Gamebooks 6, 21, and 36, all written by Ian Livingstone), while… Faithfully preserving the gotchas, instadeaths, and collectathons.

As such, it can best be politely described as “An acquired taste.” Less diplomatic descriptions are usually long strings of vulgar language, interspersed with terms like “Garnet” , “Infinite Unwinnable Fights of Padding”, “Gotcha”, and “Black Imp.”

To be fair to the developers, they have taken steps to palliate this, with multiple difficulty levels and a lives system, allowing you to take multiple runs without losing your progress… To a point. Default difficulty has 9 lives, and, unless you are supremely lucky on those die rolls, and know exactly the path to take through the game… You will lose at least a couple of those lives. We’ll get back to that.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 1.

First, there’s something we’ve been missing this whole time: How have Nomad Games and Asmodee Digital adapted a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a sort of top-down, tabletop like experience with dice and cards, with random encounters to both spice up the emptier bits of the dungeon, and replace one-off events that you’ve already dealt with. It looks pretty nice, with some good artwork, definitely nice looking maps, and music that doesn’t, generally speaking, outweigh its welcome. Menus are clear, and, while I would have liked some of the map segments to look a bit less muddy, clear icon signposts for direction choices and doors helps with this a lot. Text is in neat boxes, choices are clearly highlighted… It isn’t bad, in this respect.

But, amusingly enough, part of the problem is that it is a mostly faithful adaptation of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy. A trilogy which has some rather painful moments, such as, early in the Trial of Champions gamebook, six fights in a row, with minimal healing every two fights. Oh boy, I hope your skill rolls are good, my friends, because otherwise, even the generous checkpointing for this particular part (So notable because it’s more generous than, say, the entirety of Deathtrap Dungeon, which has precisely one checkpoint), you may well lose a few of your precious lives here! Add in some difficult, if not unwinnable fights with meager rewards in some paths, gotcha traps in both set and random encounters (Take 2 Stamina Damage. No, just take it, this isn’t a Skill or Luck roll like the others, you Just Take Damage), and some places where only memorisation will save you from unpalatable options there’s precisely no signposting for. Looking at you, rat staircase and arena fight in Deathtrap Dungeon! Looking… Right… At you!

It is, however, nice in that you do get to keep your items, and setpieces you’ve completed remain completed, even if you die.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 2. Albeit without the part where you skim through the book to find the paragraph number where you succeed.

Overall, Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal is, as noted, an acquired taste. So long as you’re okay with the fact that this digital adaptation only slightly pulls the punches of CYOA gamebooks from the 80s, with arbitrary game design moments to match, then you may well find joy and interest in this title. If this isn’t your thing, then y’know what? I don’t entirely blame you, as going back through this trilogy, swearing at various elements, and then thinking “Oh… Yeah, this was roughly how I felt the first time” was quite the experience. The game is also, at the time of writing, somewhat crash prone, although I’m sure that will be dealt with in time.

Still… It’s not often I both congratulate and curse a developer for correctly emulating the feel of an old property… Not often at all…

The Mad Welshman still remembers how his first experience with another CYOA series was the Deathlords of Ixia. He feels this may have had lasting effects…

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